One of the most abrupt and shocking forbidden phrases you can say to a customer is, “We can’t do that.” These words close the door on the customer’s request as quickly as does its close cousin  — “That’s our policy.” Everyone has heard the “We can’t” phrase before, and we’ve heard it used in situations in which we could imagine a reasonable alternative.

Telling customers “We can’t do that” doesn’t help them. It’s a dead end.  Customers are only concerned with what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do.

The solution is to remove the “We can’t” out of your vocabulary when speaking with a customer. Instead, offer suggestions of what you can do for them.  We call this a positive alternative.

Consider this scenario in which someone calls their local government asking for help with a problem:

Don't say we Can'tEric: “Good afternoon, county assessor’s office. This is Eric.”

Customer:  “Yes, I need to talk with your appraiser. I just received my new real estate tax bill and it’s way too high. Now, I work until a quarter to five, but I’m just a few blocks away. Can someone meet with me just after 5 o’clock.”

Eric: “Ohhh, we can’t do that.”

Here’s a far better way to handle this situation:

Eric’s positive alternative:  “Well, here’s what we can do. We’re only open until 5, but let me transfer you to Mark Murphy. He’s one of our appraisers. He could meet with you over the lunch hour, or maybe you could get off work a couple of minutes early tomorrow. I’ll set it up for you. If you’re able to hold, I’ll transfer you to Mark.”

Here’s another example: A man calls a local retailer and asks if they have a particular sales item in stock.

“Yes. We still have three left. We’re open until 5:30 today,” the clerk replies.

“Unfortunately, I’m out of town on business today. Is there any way you could hold it for me until tomorrow morning? I’ll be in to get it.”

The clerk is aware their policy does not allow sale items to be placed on hold, but instead of saying, “We can’t do that,” the clerk responds with the positive alternative: “If you’ve got a moment, I’ll talk with my supervisor and see if we could take a credit card number from you over the phone. That way we could hold it until you pick it up.”

The important thing to remember is that every time someone repeats, “We can’t do that,” a customer likely is lost. The key is to replace that forbidden phrase with a positive alternative: “Here’s what we CAN do.”

Remember this theme, don’t tell them what you can’t do, tell them what you CAN do!

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